Princess puts a tagline on ship investments

LOS ANGELES — Princess Cruises has grouped a package of initiatives and ship upgrades into a program called “The Come Back New Promise.”

The program will encompass $450 million of investments in premium bedding, new restaurants, Broadway shows and other improvements it will make through partnerships with outside innovators.

“Our promise is to provide guests with joyful, memorable moments,” Princess President Jan Swartz said at a dockside function aboard the Ruby Princess here.

Many of the investments, such as a new customized bed and a specialty restaurant by Australian chef Curtis Stone, have been previously disclosed.

Other elements are the Salty Dog Gastropub designed by Argentinian chef Ernesto Uchimura, the “Magic to Do” show crafted by composer Steven Schwartz, a version of “The Voice” singing competition called “The Voice at Sea” and the Chocolate Journeys program of confections from pastry chef Norman Love.

Further, the program includes “Festivals of the World” with shipboard parties, activities and musical performances themed to festivals such as Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival and its partnerships with regional brewers to produce custom beers for individual vessels.

Norwegian Cruise Line to offer ex-UK cruises for first time in seven years

Photo by Dave Jones

by Hollie-Rae Merrick 

Norwegian Cruise Line will have a UK-dedicated ship sailing from Southampton for the first time in seven years from 2017.

The cruise line will offer a series of 11 Western Europe and three Norwegian Fjords sailings between May 12 and June 20 and August 7 and October 16, 2017. Also available will be two shorter taster cruises.

Norwegian Jade (pictured) will arrive in Europe after a two-and-a-half-week dry-dock. Ports of call featured on its itineraries include Hamburg, Amsterdam, Zeebrugge, Le Havre, Alesund, Geiranger, and Bergen.

The line’s 2017 programme includes a total of five ships sailing in Europe, the line’s biggest ever European deployment.

Norwegian Getaway, which launched in 2014, will return to Europe to sail on eight or nine-night Baltic Capitals cruises to and from Copenhagen.

Norwegian Epic will sail in the Western Mediterranean; Norwegian Spirit will offer 10 and 11-night voyages between Barcelona and Venice and Norwegian Star will sail between Venice and the Greek Isles.

Norwegian’s managing director for EMEA, Christian Boell, said: “We’re clearly demonstrating our commitment to our European customers, especially cruisers in the UK, with these exciting summer itineraries.

“Not only are we offering the possibility to embark in Southampton but we are also bringing one of our newest and most innovative ships back to Europe.

“We’re convinced that this will encourage continued growth in the UK market, where we have just seen record breaking guest numbers in 2015.”

Northern Europe general manager, Nick Wilkinson, added: “I’m sure these exciting Southampton sailings will be music to our travel partners’ ears.”

New ship Norwegian Escape, which launched in October 2015, will spend summer 2017 sailing alternating seven-night Eastern and Western Caribbean cruises from Miami on May 6.

With ocean line expansion, Viking will bring first ship stateside

Viking Ocean Cruises is a little more than two months away from accepting its second ship, the Viking Sea, an event that will multiply the fledgling line’s ability to offer varied itineraries.

Already Viking has said that its first ship, the Viking Star, will reposition to North America starting in September.

After a transition cruise that follows the route of the Viking explorers from Norway to the New World, the Viking Star will offer some fall cruises in Canada and a trip down the eastern seaboard before making its home for the winter of 2016-17 in Puerto Rico.

Richard Marnell, senior vice president of marketing for Viking River Cruises, said the company intends to hold the line on pricing.

“It is our intent to maintain the value at what it is today and essentially to fill the ships as quickly as we can build them,” he said.

Marnell said the company, which is new to the ocean side of cruising, had some kinks to work out in its first few months, but its debut received positive feedback from media and customers.

He said a rating of 5 from the editors of the Cruise Critic website and a “Loved It” endorsement from 86% of the site’s readers were especially exciting. Internally, the line’s surveys are “very, very good and encouraging,” Marnell said.

“What people are applauding is the understated elegance, the residential feel, the great bathrooms, king-size beds, the housekeeping,” he said. “Food is a surprise, and people are quite pleased with our food.”

One of the kinks had to do with an electrical transformer problem that led to the early termination of a cruise in Estonia. Another involved sudden breakage of glass shower partitions in the bathrooms.

Marnell said both problems have been fixed, and Viking might be making a design modification on future ships to ensure that the glass breakage doesn’t reoccur but added that “from a safety perspective and a utility perspective it’s fine.”

There was also an IT problem that torpedoed the television system on early cruises; that, too, has been resolved.

In addition, he said, Viking has learned from experience that some things aren’t working as expected. A singular reception area on the Star has been split into separate shore excursion and guest services desks. The gangways have been modified because the ship is too small for most air bridges, which are designed for bigger vessels, Marnell said.

By bringing the Viking Star to North America, Viking hopes to give more people a chance to see the ship. On its transition cruise from Canada to Puerto Rico, it will be making stops in Boston, New York and Florida.

Those stops, Marnell said, “will give the opportunity for those who weren’t able to attend other functions — and this is particularly important to agents — to be able to see the vessel and experience it.”

For the winter months, the Viking Star will do a series of nine 11-night roundtrips from San Juan, visiting Tortola, British Virgin Islands; Antigua; St. Lucia; Barbados; St. Kitts; Guadeloupe; St. Maarten; and St. Thomas.

Marnell said that homeporting in San Juan saves time that would otherwise be taken up sailing from South Florida for more port time in the Caribbean, a key brand promise.

Also, Viking’s overall value continues to get high marks in customer surveys, according to Marnell, and that remains a key point of differentiation.

“So we feel like we’re in a very good position, and it’s our intention to maintain that moving forward,” he said.